The Money Tree
A short story about greed and the side effects of sudden fortune
Tomorrow he would be evicted. Jobless, penniless. He had nothing in sight.He had no family, barely any friends. He was still loveless, close to feeling lifeless.
He needed to get some money, enough to pay the landlord by tomorrow night. He could only think of two ways to get it: either by stealing or hoping to win tomorrow’s nationwide lottery. Since the first was not in his nature, he bought a lottery ticket from his last money hoping that it would change his life.
But turning to luck for a way out is always a mistake.
He only won a small amount, barely enough to buy dinner and less than what he paid for the ticket.
Defeated and leaving his dinner untouched, he went to bed. That night he did not sleep well, having feverish dreams, having no rest. He was unsure whether he was asleep or dreaming. Conscious, unconscious, all was a blur. He remembered crying, wishing, hoping, begging, even laughing. He floated through the universe, seeing stars, planets, seeing earth, all but himself. When he looked down, trying to see his body, there was nothing. It was just that he was there, but he could not feel anything for just his presence.
Someone had once asked him what he wanted most in life. He had answered that he had two wishes: being rich and having all he ever wanted. Technically he was cheating. Having everything and wanting to be rich is more than two wishes.
The next morning as he arose he looked outside into his garden. What he saw there had not been there before. A small plant was visibly growing. Right in front of his eyes.
He put on his robe and walked outside. At a closer look, he saw two miniature and crisp banknotes growing at a slow pace. Seconds, minutes passed as he saw the notes increasing in size. Was he really awake?
He went into the garden, picked both notes and took them inside. From his wallet, he took his last remaining banknote. He rummaged through his desk for his magnifying glass. A gift from his late grandfather, a device he used to burn his name into wood when he was younger. His grand dad had raised him until he died when he himself was just five years old.
At a closer look, the note from the plant and the one from his wallet seemed identical. He held both notes against the light and compared them. Still, they were seemingly identical. Marks and everything. He had a hunch the notes from the plant could be real, but on the other hand: how could this be possible? Before jumping to any conclusions or exuberant states, he decided to take the notes from the plant and try to buy something at the nearby supermarket.
The girl behind the counter greeted him heartily and asked about his endeavors. The tone of her voice had risen, her heart was beating faster than usual. She was always looking forward to his arrival. If only she would have the guts to ask him out for coffee or a stroll at the boulevard. But she could not beat her own insecurity, besides, was it not the role of the man to woo a woman?
He was anxious, excited, but unable to speak to her. This was not something irregular, for he never even dared to talk to her.
Absent minded he put a loaf of bread in his basket and slowly made his way to the counter, curious of what would happen.
The girl talked to him, but he could not hear her. An approving sound came from the bank note checker.
Before he knew it, he was outside. The loaf of bread in one hand, change in his other. And then it dawned on him. It worked. The bank notes from the tree were real. Amazed he walked into the street, leaving the pretty girl behind the counter behind without as much as a goodbye.
This was something beyond his wildest dreams. Well, he did always joke that his fictitious money tree did not bear much fruit. How many times do people fantasize about that? How many times did he and his fishing friend fantasize about it? But there was no such thing. Was there?
When he got home, he went outside into his garden again. The money tree was still there.
New banknotes had grown and fallen from the tree. Ripe and crisp. Ready to be spent.
He could not believe his luck. In that moment he decided not to question the tree anymore. He did not spend one more thought about how this could happen, and why it was happening. These thoughts made room for something he had been craving all his life. Thoughts he never dreamed of having. Thoughts that could easily corrupt one’s mind if not viewed with caution. Now, he could only think about what he would spend his money on. It started innocently, even wise. Paying off his outstanding debts with his landlord and at the café down the road, and to his fisher friend for the new hook and line, he advanced.
He picked up the notes that were lying on the ground. He counted. This is more than half of the rent he was due to pay! That night the landlord arrived on his doorstep, ready to collect his payment. Expecting of having to evict his tenant. The landlord even arrived with a man twice his size, both in length and width. A precautionary safety measure. A measure as of this morning, not longer necessary. The man offered the landlord a deal. If he would pay half of the amount due today, the remaining half tomorrow and an extra half the next day, would he be able to keep his home? The landlord was skeptical as any rational man would be dealing with a poor man with debts. However, when he was shown the bills, his expression and whole body language changed. His eyes started to glimmer as he calculated his unexpected profit. The landlord agreed, and the man got to stay in his home. This was the first time the man felt that exceptional feeling of not having to worry about whether or not he could afford something he wanted.
Now that he had paid off his debts, his thoughts became subtly wilder, with just a hint of desire.
The next morning, he picked up some new, fresh notes. Eager to spend.
For now, he would keep it safe, until he had saved enough for some things he wanted.
Since he felt he could completely depend on the tree, he started buying things on credit, again getting into debt again. But surely he could depend on his tree to keep producing banknotes? The tree itself had evolved from a small plant into a bush half the man’s size, which resulted in more crisp banknotes ripe for picking every morning.
A pool, bought. A sauna, bought. A car, bought. A giant TV, bought. A new kitchen, bought. A new interior, bought. A new computer, bought. A new wardrobe, bought. A Jacuzzi, bought… All could barely fit his tiny apartment and garden.
Even though his cash more than doubled every day, it was hard for him to keep up with his credit bills. A new phenomenon was added to the mix: interest. It is never wise to harvest before the growth. His tree even had trouble keeping up with his expenditure. A tree once lush with notes became barer every day. The man ignorant of what occurred.
While having briefly experienced the sensation of not having to worry about money, now he had a different type of worry. The trouble of keeping up with his debt and ever growing interest. He decided to refrain from making expenses for a while, except for the bare necessities. A wise decision, because soon his increasing daily amount of cash met up with his debts. But on the horizon lay another challenge for the now wealthy man.
His sudden rise from poor to riches did not go unnoticed. Only after some weeks, the first few vultures arrived at his doorstep. The story about him getting into some money did not only spread across town, no, but it also spread into very distant corners of civilization. Vague acquaintances, seemingly distant family members, the needy, the poor, all asked him for money. At first, he was flattered, humbled even to help people out. But his helping hand did not go unpunished. Debts started to rise again as he extended people credit. Credit or cash he was not in possession of, yet.
In distress, he sought refuge in the buying of things. His possessions soon piled up. His house began to look like an antique store. Then, one morning when he was harvesting some new banknotes, he had an idea. He would build another floor upon his house. Satisfied with himself, he did not notice a few branches of the money tree changing black and barren dry.
As his new floor was built, and his money tree shielded from sight, he dared going into town more. People became to like him. He was smothered with attention. Not only from females, from males alike. Everyone seemed eager to chat with him, laughed at his jokes, and helped him around. In the local pub, people gathered around him, listening to his stories. Not particularly good stories mind you. However, based on the reaction of his listeners he complimented himself with being an apt storyteller. There was one story however he did not dare share. The story about what had been growing in his garden the past few months.
He gained some weight, ate whatever he wanted, and drank more often. In the pub he felt alive, loved and part of something. But at the end of the night, when the bill was brought, his new friends were nowhere to be seen. Soon bills were just brought to him wherever he went, his company expecting him to pay. He did not mind he told himself. He had money, he connected with people, he had friends.
When his floor was finished, and his possessions moved around, he still had plenty of space left. Space he thought needed to be filled. In one room he had a cinema built. In another, an indoor Jacuzzi for guests, since the Jacuzzi outside was off limits to guests. He installed a gym to work on his physique. He decided to learn new things, taking up piano and sculpting lessons.
Still, he thought he lacked some things. First, who was going to clean all these areas? He needed housekeeping. He allowed himself the luxury. By that, he thought it would be best to also hire a chef and a butler. He could, you know.
By now the tree had grown to almost seven feet, resulting in a bigger harvest every morning. He needed a safe. But more so, needed to spend. He decided on building two more floors, with a roof terrace on top.
On the second floor, he had a study build, which he filled with books. In another room, he had a gaming room build, complete with all the newest gadgets.
Looking around, pleased with himself, with his house, with his wealth and possessions he could not help but feel a longing. Not necessarily for more, but for something else.
Outside a few black and barred branches emerged, remaining unnoticed.
He started to feel a bit lonely, even in the pub. He could not put his finger on what it was he was missing, so he decided to do what he could do best: invest. The man had a chat with his landlord, inquiring about the sale of the whole apartment building. His landlord could not hide his excitement as he smelled money. The landlord asked a ridiculous amount of money. The man, oblivious to the value of money by now, bought the complex right there on the spot. All tenants got to keep their apartment, at the current rate. With the exception of the apartments on either side of his. Smelling money, both tenants demanded a large buyout. The man did not even blink.
A tennis court, a garage filled with cars, a spa, and more gadgets followed. Still, he remained all alone in no less than three houses. Suddenly he was struck with fear, for how long it would take people to rob him from his new found possessions? What if someone decided to break in? Or even worse, what if that someone found his tree? He hired half a dozen security guards, and he had them on site 24/7. Video cameras were installed in all rooms and outside at every window.
One morning he was harvesting, and he noticed some pale looking banknotes. Banknotes that could not be spent for sure. He shrieked at the sight of them, worried, panicked. What happened?
Blinded by fear and loneliness, he spent weeks inside his house, unable to see people, even unable to spend. He had not visited his tree for weeks, afraid of what he would find. When he found the courage, the pale banknotes were no more. His tree was lush with crispy fresh notes. He shrieked, but this time with joy. And then he had it! He would throw a big party!
Since the news about his sudden fortune had spread even more widely now, he had many new friends — or so he thought. He invited them all via posters in the town. His butler handed out flyers in the streets. An advertisement was made in the paper. There was a big buzz going around town and beyond of a man who possessed sudden wealth and who was about to throw the party of the century. The man with the money tree was all caught up in organizing his party. It had to be a party to be remembered, a party of which people were proud to have attended it. A party they would brag about to their friends and neighbors to have been a part of. He hired a party planner, singers, dancers, magicians, a play ensemble, cocktail makers, catering, circus animals, and security. He came up with a theme, ornaments, ice sculptures, a lighted dance floor, garlands, balloons. He spent so much that every time he came to harvest, there were no banknotes left. The excess money he spent on credit. The tree would grow new notes again.
Everything was set in motion, including barricading his tree from sight. Windows facing the garden were blinded by removing windows and replacing them with stone. The door to the garden of his first apartment where the tree stood was locked with seven different locks. Three security men were standing guard, not knowing what they were protecting. Around the tree, a temporary wooden shed was built, which completely covered the money tree. Just to be sure.
The evening of the party arrived. Nervous, excited, and anxious he awaited his first guests. He had anticipated a big crowd, but the line of people waiting in front of his doors were unfathomable. Not even a quarter of the people standing in line were able to get in. People told each other stories about their host. About his found fortune. Stories about him being an oligarch, descendant of a king, self-made entrepreneur, lottery winner, gold seeker and other stories emerged.
Somewhere at the end of the line, a woman returned home, disappointed. It had been a while since she last saw him. She heard about his fortune, but that was not why she was there, she wanted to see him. Maybe tonight she would have had the guts to tell him how she felt.
She was not the only one forced to return home, many other had to as well, devastated that they were not able to attend the what was soon called the greatest party this town had ever seen.
The host beamed of pride with the attention. The mayor was there, some distant relatives, friends, entrepreneurs, famous painters, actresses and actors, writers, intellectuals, common people. The whole night he shook hands, listened to blurry stories he would not remember later, laughed, danced, drank. Everyone was savoring the food and drinks. People danced, played games, watched a play, swam in the pool, relaxed in the Jacuzzi, gazed at the garlands and the parties’ dressing.
He told stories, people laughed. He devoured their attention. But all the while he was thinking about his tree and that no one must know.
A new phenomenon occurred since his new found wealth: the attention of women. Never in his life had he ever experienced such attention. Women of all ages, shapes, and beauty flirted with him. With him! One even more beautiful than the other. Most of them he had never seen before. Women dressed in spectacular gowns. Women of all races.
One woman made sure to get his attention all night. She gave him longing looks from every corner of the party. When he was sure she would come up to him, she disappeared. Only to appear again when he was talking to different women. While he was talking to a breathtaking woman with dark hair, hazel eyes, olive skin and the most exquisite physique, the woman caught his attention again. She pointed her eyes to the balcony on the other building, smiled and walked away, the fabric of her dress waving in the crowd. He stopped his current conversation, excused himself and walked towards the other building, through the partying crowd.
After a while, and blowing off many disappointed people who wanted to talk to him, he reached the roof. There she was, the woman. She stood there with her back towards him, gazing over the balcony, her eyes on the view of the town and the ocean. As in a trance, he walked up to her until he stood next to her. She was gorgeous, tall, slender, blonde, with green eyes, high cheekbones, wearing a green dress that matched the color of her eyes. She turned her head to glance at him. He could not utter a word, but he did not have to. She grabbed his hand, gave it a little squeeze, and let her head fell down on his shoulder. He panicked slightly, unsure of what to do. She said something about the view. Complimented him with the party and looked into his eyes. She smiled. He was dumbfounded. She leaned in to kiss him. He froze. She giggled. She said to let go. He kissed her back.
The next morning, he woke up next to her. Stoned with love and confusion he enjoyed her company. When she was gone, he went on to set his money tree free from its captivity in the wooden shed. He sat by the tree for a while, thinking about the woman.
Over the following weeks, she became a part of his life. They watched movies together, ate great dinners, had wine, talked, all in the comfort of his house. She gave him a compliment at every opportunity she had, and he spent his days in the clouds. Never would he have imagined being this intimate and close to a woman, let alone such a beautiful woman like her.
Almost without him noticing, furniture in the house changed. Chandeliers were installed, as were expensive art and furniture. What was more striking: she had moved all of her own stuff into his house. They were practically living together now, and he loved it. One day he caught her standing before the door to the inner garden, where the money tree was. As it was locked, she became curious and asked him what was behind that door, where it leads to. He laughed it away, saying that it leads to an old power generator of the former apartment building complex that was once this house. Briefly content with his answer, she left it at that. She grabbed his hands and asked him when he was going to make an honest woman out of her. He decided to marry her right there and then.
The wedding was a big feast, and it was celebrated on the beach of his town. What the man did not notice was the hardened face of his soon to be wife behind her veil. Practically the whole town was invited, and the party was even more extravagant as the party he threw the night he met his wife. All courtesy of both her wedding planning and spending skills.
His debt rose steadily since he met this woman, barely able to keep up with harvesting his tree. By this pace, he would need a second tree he thought. But there was no second tree, there was only one. His tree was being stretched to its limits. He noticed that the tree did not produce as many notes as it once had. He became afraid, but could not tell his wife.
After the wedding, his wife began to slowly go back to the life she led before him. With the only difference of having money now. All her life she had strayed from town to town, hoping to find a man to take care of her. She had had many different jobs and relationships but nothing lasted. Now, she had both money and a man to take care of her. This left her with time to enjoy herself. Going from town to town again, visiting old friends. Going to extravagant parties. Living the life she had always dreamed of living.
He saw her less frequent, with no clue where she was or what she was doing. The only clue he had was the debt she piled up in her waste. He did not mind since he loved her deeply. He thought about his parents for a while, what they might think of her, but it was painful to think about them. He never really knew them. He would do things differently, he vowed. He would be there for his children. That night when his wife came back, he told her that he wanted a child. His wife beamed at the idea and burst into tears.
Ever since she got pregnant, she spent more time in the house. With nothing to do, she started wandering past the locked door. Thinking about what was there. She noticed no windows on this side of the house, not on any floor. From the balconies, she could not see anything, except for a few green leaves. It was hard to tell, but they looked off. Occupied with the mystery, she spent less money, to the relieve of her husband. He could pay off more debt and start saving again. Or so he thought.
After a couple of months, a healthy baby boy arrived. He was the light of his life. He had a son. He decided to dedicate his life to making his son the happiest human being on the planet. He thought the birth of their child would bring him and his wife closer again. Alas, he was mistaken.
His wife did not care for her son. She left him in the care of her husband, while she was away, treating herself to luxury trips with friends, spa treatments, and the attention of other men.
The man did not mind the absence of his wife, nor did he care about what she was doing. Now he had someone else to spend his entire being on. He enjoyed his baby’s moments in the tub, feeding him the bottle, walking on the beach together, his son tightly wrapped to his chest, even the cries he became to adore. He felt a kind of joy he had not felt in a long time.
After a couple of weeks of exhaustive expenditures, his wife returned, resolute to be with her family. However, soon she was bored. She did not bother to understand her baby or her husband for that matter. This made her return to the mystery in the garden, the thing that was hidden from her. One day she asked her husband point blank why there were no windows facing the garden at this part of the house. Why she could not access this part of the garden. Her husband frowned, turned red, and walked away. Naturally, her interest had now only risen. The following day, when her two men were walking on the beach, she started to try to open the only door towards this part of the garden by force. She sent the guards in the building away. The door was thoroughly locked, but with sheer determination, she managed to break the locks.
When the man returned with his son, he was struck by a loud shriek.
A shriek coming from his wife, a shriek that sounded both exuberant and frightening. He knew immediately. He walked towards the tree, finding his wife obsessively picking at the tree, dancing, sticking the notes wherever she could put them.
She turned to face him, smiling outrageously. When she was done picking the notes, and the tree was completely bare, she walked towards him, cunning. From now on, she said, she was to be the one responsible for the picking and handling of the money. If he would object, she would tell the world. Worried for the safety of his son and himself, what would happen if the people found out, he complied. He decided he could not do anything but agree to her terms.
In the following weeks, she bought all of the land surrounding their houses, spending money to see all her foolish dreams and imaginations come true. Evicting all previous inhabitants. A wall was built around the premises. She had a castle build. Extra security was added. She now had bodyguards. She would not allow her husband or child to be closer than two meters from her. His home became a fortress. He and his son its prisoners. He was not allowed to go off of what was now the so called estate. An estate surrounded with a wall, with watchtowers, with guards.
Their debts were at an all-time high.
The man was allowed a fixed amount of money per month to use for both him and his son. It covered the bare necessities and a fee for delivery of groceries, but it was not nearly enough.
His anger towards his wife mellowed every day. Every day he bonded more with his son. He enjoyed his laughs, his curiosity, and candidness.
On a beautiful spring day, when his son had just turned one, a guard took his son from him, and he was summoned to go see his wife whom he had not seen for months. He visited her in a building he had not been in before. She was sitting in a beautifully decorated room, and for a moment he thought he was at a palace only familiar to him from books and stories. His wife was sitting on a small stage on a big armchair, flanked by two muscular looking men. She still looked beautiful to him, but he felt nothing. Her face had hardened, her upper lip was twitching. She was moving anxiously in her chair. Her first word was calm, but then came the rage. She ordered the men to leave the room. She blamed him for leaving the tree to rot. He did not nurture it, like he nurtured his son, she said. The tree being stretched outside its boundaries produced less usable notes every day. The money tree had even more black branches.
From now on he could only see his son from dinner on. During the day he had to take care of the tree. Otherwise, she would not let him see his son anymore, knowing that this would hurt him the most. If she would simply send them away, she was afraid her husband would tell the world what was growing in the center of her estate and then she could lose everything. Immediately he was brought to the door to the garden. It had been months since he had last seen the tree. The last time was when his wife found his treasure. The tree bark had deteriorated, the branches were black and hanging. Red, yellow and orange notes were lying on the ground. He had never seen the tree in such a bad state. He knew what needed to happen, but he also knew his wife would never cooperate. She would never stop spending, which was not exactly the issue itself. It was the vanity and greediness out of which it was being spent. When he turned around, she stood there, waiting for a report. It was time for a plan, he thought. He told her the obvious, to lower her expenses, at which she sneered. It had not rained in a while, the tree needed water. She responded with laughter and said that she watered the plant every day. Now he had to be careful. He told her the tree needed rain water, not any other type of water. She was furious since it had not rained for weeks in this town. And it was not about to start anytime soon.
She needed to get it somewhere, somehow. But there was another option he told her, something only she could do. Her face brightened a bit, curious. She needed to let go most of the guards and other unnecessary staff, since the more human beings that were in the presence of the tree, the unhealthier it became. He said he had also noticed that when he frequented big parties. He waited, unsure if she would fall for it. She nodded, slowly. First get rainwater. She asked him how her tone curt. Here he would permit himself some malignity. He said it was her problem to figure that out since he was not allowed to leave the premises.
In the following week, not many people remained around the premises. Luckily the first person he had hired since he came to riches, still worked there, the housekeeper, an elderly woman now taking care of his son during the day. She had a better perspective as to where his wife was about. Exactly a week after their conversation in the beautiful room, his wife still had not found a way to get rainwater here. Infuriated, she went out to arrange it on her own the elderly woman informed him.
He made up his mind and instructed the elderly woman to follow him and help him pack a bag with some essentials for the baby.
He opened his old desk, which he still kept. From the drawer, he grabbed a handful of photographs. Underneath he felt a heavy object, the magnifying glass. The one which used to belong to his grandfather. He glanced at it and smiled. His granddad was a jeweler and has shown him how one could determine if gold was real or not. He put it in the bag as a memory.
Together with his son and the elderly woman, he ran towards the shed and grabbed two cans of gasoline and a lighter. They walked towards the garden, to the tree. Ignoring the elderly woman’s amazement, he handed her his son. He quickly picked some good looking notes and put them in her pocket. He started pouring and throwing gasoline on the tree. His son started laughing. Suddenly, he was laughing too. He lit the lighter and threw it towards the tree. It immediately caught fire. He instructed the elderly woman to divert the attention of the remaining people on the premises and to hold people off as long as possible. If necessary, she should tell them there is a fire somewhere, but at the other side of the estate. He took his son and the bag and walked away.
The moment he set fire to the tree, the doorbell rang of what used to be the door to his small apartment. Adamant to see it burn first, he waited until the tree fully caught fire.
He took his son, wrapped him on his chest and opened the door. A silhouette of a woman appeared, briefly illuminated by the light of the sun. She greeted him. He recognized her vaguely from somewhere, but he could not remember where from. She said that she has not seen him for years at the grocery store where she worked. For years she wondered what had become of him. She had heard the rumors of his riches, but she chose not to believe the stories of what had become of him as an arrogant rich man. She had tried to see him before when he threw his biggest party, but she was unable to get in.
Today she decided to pick up the courage to visit him, to ask him out, something she had been pondering for years. The timing could not have been more perfect. Little did the man know how the two events were not coincidental, for what is coincidental in life?
Now he remembered her as the clerk from the supermarket. A beautiful woman he was always kind of scared of, scared because he liked her. But a man as insecure and miserable as he had once been, did not dare approach her. And now she was here doing what he had never dared.
In the heat of the moment, he grabbed her hand and asked her if she was ready to have an adventure. She smiled nervously and looked puzzled. She asked him why he was in such a rush with his baby and bags. He answered that he would tell her the story soon, the story of a magical tree.
The three of them walked out of the village with no particular place to go. They smiled at each other. The man did not even look back. If he had, he would see a small cloud of smoke coming from the place where had once stood a money tree.
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